January 7, 2017 3:56:08 am
BY NOW, it’s already established that the MSK Prasad-led selection committee believes and swears by giving players second chances. We’ve already seen lifelines being extended to Gautam Gambhir and Parthiv Patel. Patel was brought back from a eight-year hiatus while Gambhir was given an unexpected recall when the doors seemed to be tightly shut on his international career.
So on the face of it, the return of Yuvraj Singh to the ODI team-he also reclaims his place in the T20 squad after having appeared last in the World T20 semifinal last March-could just be looked at as a continuation of their selection policy.
The 35-year-old hasn’t been in India’s ODI plans for more than three years now. And the three-match series against England is supposed to be when India usher in a new dawn under a new captain in Virat Kohli. But at least in Yuvraj, the selectors seemed to have thought it prudent to bring back an old don.
The 2019 World Cup is just over two years away now. And India have only 55 matches before their opening game.
Their preparation starts now. With Kohli now at the helm, this is when they build a team that would be ready to challenge for the trophy in England. So are the selectors actually looking at Yuvraj, who will officially be 37 by then, as a serious part of their World Cup plans? Or is it just a short-gap acknowledgment of his recent performances in domestic cricket which could lead to a fitting farewell at the Champions Trophy?
Either way, there are questions that beg to be answered. Yuvraj comes back at a time the Indian middle-order is still not settled. It’s a fickle batting line-up with no clear takers for positions from No.4-No.6.
Let’s say MS Dhoni sticks to the No.4 spot that he seemed keen on occupying during the series win over New Zealand in October. Kedar Jadhav was the biggest takeaway for India against the Kiwis, both with bat and ball, which should make him a certain starter at No.6 for now.
That leaves only the No.5 spot up for grabs. So Yuvraj is likely then to compete for a place in the XI with Manish Pandey and Ajinkya Rahane. Yuvraj has the experience and he has the big shots. Though not as much of a high-flyer as in his early days, he still remains a safe fielder. And he can always chip in with his agonizingly slow left-arm spin.
It’s understandable then that the selectors are desperate for Yuvraj to click. Not to forget, that India’s bane over the last year or so in 50-over cricket has been the lack of a designated finisher. It’s safe to say that in a scenario where the team needs 120 off the last 12 overs, you’d any day pick Yuvraj over a Pandey or a Rahane. Hardik Pandya is billed to be the gung-ho, boundary-clearing ‘finisher’ but he’s still too raw and unproven at this level. Jadhav has played a few audacious cameos, but he still doesn’t convince you to do so in a high-pressure situation. Then there’s also the question of if not Yuvraj then who, in terms of the options available outside the squad. You look around the circuit and few names prop up instantaneously for you to be outraged by his inclusion. But does Yuvraj have the age and the fitness for the selectors to be making a two-year investment in him? For the record, the punt on Gambhir was a failed move. But you can always get away with a gamble of that sort in Test cricket, considering it’s a short-term one. You give someone a series or maybe two to see if they can cut the mustard and then just give up on it. It doesn’t really unsettle a team in the long-run.
But if Yuvraj wastes his three opportunities against England like Gambhir did, then it would mean three missed opportunities for Pandey, Rahane or both to cement their place in the team and as a result settle the middle-order. Keeping in mind the World Cup that is. Ironically, the axe dropped on Yuvraj’s ODI career the last time around when India were just building their team for the 2015 World Cup Down Under. He had crossed fifty once in the previous 19 matches, averaging 18.53. Mitchell Johnson had exposed a weakness in the left-hander against the short-ball that pretty much laid Yuvraj to waste. One failure at Johannesburg on the truncated tour to South Africa in late 2013 was enough to convince Prasad’s predecessors that it was time to move on. Like with Patel and Gambhir, Yuvraj’s recall was hailed by Prasad as just reward for a stellar domestic season. The numbers are impressive of course. He did after all score 672 runs at 84 in 5 Ranji Trophy matches for Punjab. And Prasad didn’t stick to just throwing up the numbers in trying to justify his committee’s bold move.
“We should appreciate the way Yuvraj Singh has played in domestic cricket. All these days we thought he hasn’t played long innings. But he has scored a double-hundred. He scored 180 on the Lahli wicket,” he said.
At the moment, it looks more like they’re content with giving the veteran a chance and seeing how it goes with the hope of course that it doesn’t go the Gambhir way.
ODI squad: KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (capt), MS Dhoni, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav
T20I squad: KL Rahul, Mandeep Singh, Virat Kohli (capt), MS Dhoni (wk), Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Manish Pandey, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashish Nehra.
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